3- 17 Family Works — Speaking on teamwork

By ROB COOMBS
Posted 3/1/19

If you have never had the Ropes Course Experience, please put it on your bucket list. In case you’re not familiar with a ropes course, it is a series of activities such as walking on a telephone …

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3- 17 Family Works — Speaking on teamwork

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If you have never had the Ropes Course Experience, please put it on your bucket list. In case you’re not familiar with a ropes course, it is a series of activities such as walking on a telephone pole, swinging from a rope, jumping to a trapeze, and climbing from one place to another. Nothing seriously challenging unless you consider that all this is taking place 30 to 40 feet above ground. But, not to worry. While high among the trees, you are securely connected to a harness which is attached to a rope. Should you fall, your team who holds the other end of the rope catches you. That way there are no broken bones or splattering of blood. You simply dangle in the air until they hoist you either back up to your perch or slowly lower you to the ground. Really, it’s safer than being on the ground, at least I kept telling myself that. 

I wasn’t frightened by the experience because I really trusted my team. They were all colleagues and I don’t believe any of them wanted to do me in, at least not enough of them to cause my demise. I did find the whole experience both exhilarating and a wonderful chance to allow the child in me to come out and play.
I also appreciated the opportunity to participate in teamwork. Our instructors, Mike and Carl, were committed to make this more than a “Six-Flags experience.” With teamwork, both proposed that anything the team wanted to happen, could happen. Carl told of a recent experience where a group of teenagers figured out a way to hoist a girl who had been confined to a wheelchair all of her life to the treetops. She cried, not out of fear, but out of joy. It was her first experience to be off the ground. Being overly protected all of her life, the experience gave her reason for new confidence. 
Before venturing out to the ropes course, Mike asked our team to make a “five-finger contract.” Confused, I looked at my hand and then looked at Mike. “A five-finger contract?” “Yes, your hand is all about teamwork and I’m hoping I can get all of you to work as effectively together as the fingers on your own hand. You see, each finger represents something about teamwork. Think of your thumb as a source of encouragement. Without the fine and gross motor skills your thumb provides for stability and fixation, you wouldn’t be able to have the fun you are about to have. The next finger is known as the index or pointer finger. It can be used to build or destroy the team. Remember your mom telling you that when you are pointing at someone else, you also have three fingers pointed back at yourself? Be careful about pointing at all. If everyone one is pointing at someone else attempting to tell them what to do or where to do it, there can be mass confusion. There are times to give directions and times to receive directions. Good teams understand this. Your middle finger is known for ‘flipping the bird’ which communicates profanity that is intended to put other persons down, to make them feel stupid and worthless, to hurt others. We call these ‘zingers.’ Zingers destroy teamwork. Use your ‘encouraging’ thumb to hold down your middle finger when you are tempted to throw a zinger and this will help you to remember that encouragement, not put downs, help you to be a positive part of the team. The fourth finger (the ring finger) represents commitment, the desire to give of yourself 100 percent when helping your team or when trying something new on the course. Be committed. ‘Yes, I’m going to do this.’ If you or someone else chooses not to participate in a particular activity, no one will retreat to the second finger, pointing at you in judgement, or the middle finger to make fun of you or put you down. Good teams don’t allow that. This is a safe environment, both physically and emotionally. And finally, the last finger. The pinkie finger may be small, but it is important as any other. The pinkie completes the hand affording you a better grip. (Try pull-ups without using your pinkie.) The pinkie, like every person here, serves an important function on the team. Without each of you, the team wouldn’t be complete.”
I’m guessing that this “five-finger contract” is good both on and off the ropes courses.
Rob Coombs is a professor with a doctor of ministry degree and a doctor of philosophy with an emphasis in Family Systems.

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